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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: No, my Lords, we do not believe that if penalties or the payment of compensation were imposed, the virtues of a self-regulatory system could be maintained. If penalties were imposed and compensation were available, the freedom with which the press accepts the Press Complaints Commission and its code would be damaged, as would the ability of individuals to have their complaints considered.
Lord Monson: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, for giving way. Further to what he has said, can he say whether it is a criminal offence, as opposed to a civil offence, to bug people's houses or flats? I believe that is very important.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, we are moving into the complicated discussions which we had on the Police Bill last year, where the power of anybody to bug people's houses or flats was very much in question. The issue is one on which I am not qualified to give a definitive answer. Though bugging of itself may not be an offence, the intrusion into a person's home to place the bugs almost certainly would be.
Why do we not believe in statutory regulation of the kind proposed by both my noble friends? This is a history which goes back more than 300 years. In peacetime there has been no executive control of the press in this country since 1696. It has been a principle of the freedom of the press on which so many of our liberties have depended that there should be no such control. Of course, that does not mean that under no circumstances and at no time there could not be any supplement to self-regulation. We had to introduce statutory controls in war time. If it were shown that self-regulation did not work, then we would have to reconsider the position. I do not believe that to be the case and I do not believe that even the dramatic examples given in the course of this debate lead to that conclusion.
One of the major problems is practicality. How would statutory regulation work? In practice it would replace self-regulation rather than complement it. As I have said, a large part of self-regulation is about problems of inaccuracy and those would be unregulated if statutory regulation were introduced. How would statutory
It is also very much a blunt instrument. Access to the courts is easier for the powerful and the rich, as has been said on a number of occasions. Statutory regulation would be much wider than a privacy law in itself, as the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, recognised. It would be more likely to result in the cover up of matters of great public interest, such as those referred to by the noble Lords, Lord Burnham and Lord Skidelsky, rather than in an improvement in the protection of the public.
We will be and have been accused of introducing statutory regulation by the back door through the Human Rights Bill and possibly the Data Protection Bill, though there is nothing as yet to comment on. The answer to that is given clearly by the Lord Chancellor in his speech in the Committee stage of the Human Rights Bill and in the press release which he issued after that Committee stage. He said that he had been persuaded by counsel to the Press Complaints Commission that the Press Complaints Commission was in fact a public authority within the meaning of the Bill. He went on to say,
I know that there will be debates next week on the Human Rights Bill and it is not competent for me to anticipate what will be said in those debates and what conclusion will result. The Government's position on this is clear. Even if, as we believe, the Press Complaints Commission is a public authority and therefore within the scope of the Bill, this is a good thing for press freedom and a good thing for self-regulation of the press.
I want to refer to one final issue before I sit down--that is, the issue of prior restraint which has not been much referred to in this debate but is still of considerable importance. If we were to introduce a system whereby it would be possible--and worse, easy--for anybody to go to the courts and obtain an injunction to prevent publication by the press, in certain circumstances that could be a restriction of the freedom
It would have been impossible for me, in concluding this debate, to satisfy both my noble friend Lady Turner and the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham. Their views on what should be done are virtually diametrically opposed. In repeating the often expressed view of the Government, I hope that I have shown that self-regulation is the better alternative; that our support for self-regulation in no way diminishes our support for strong and effective self-regulation and for the protection of individuals in our society.
Lord Tordoff: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down--I must declare an interest as a member of the Press Complaints Commission--one matter has not been touched on and perhaps the noble Lord will comment. It arises out of what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, and the noble Earl, Lord Longford; that is, that neither self-regulation nor statutory regulation should or can affect opinion or taste in newspaper matters.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I did not follow the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, in his attack on the triviality of the press, though I have sympathy with it. That is not a matter for government.
Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, I thank those noble Lords who contributed to the debate, which has been a most interesting one. Perhaps I may say from the outset that I believe I made it clear that I was not advocating a privacy law, nor was I advocating an end to investigative journalism. On the contrary. I am in favour of investigative journalism, which has had a great deal to contribute to improvements in social reform and so forth.
I very much believe in freedom of the press. I am simply seeking redress for individuals who have been damaged as a result of the exercise of those freedoms. I was attempting to say that I did not believe, despite what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, that self-regulation had effectively provided sufficient redress and sufficient protection for people who are damaged as a result of those press freedoms. I recommended that there should be an independent ombudsman mainly because access to an independent ombudsman is free.
I was involved with ombudsman schemes through the Financial Services Act. It is true that they were part of self regulation, but that will change as a result of changes in the financial services provisions. The ombudsman schemes in those situations were able to provide compensation to people who felt they had been damaged, and they were free. It is true that an appeal against an ombudsman's decision was to the
As I indicated in my opening speech, this is an ongoing issue. There will continue to be people who are damaged as a result of stories in the press. There will continue to be individuals who have been damaged as a result of intrusions into privacy and who will claim that they have been bugged and have suffered surveillance. They will feel that they are not getting sufficient redress under the provisions applied by the Press Complaints Commission.
As I said in my opening remarks, I think that the press complaints code is excellent, and I commended the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, because I know that he has had a great deal to do with the introduction of the code. I was glad to note from his statement that this is by no means the end of the road and that he is continuing to watch the situation. There may be changes; there may be improvements; there may even be a provision by the PCC to introduce a compensation scheme. That would be excellent. However, in the meantime, it seems to me that problems will continue to arise. Problems have arisen since I drafted my Motion before the Christmas Recess.
I emphasise once again that I do not want to interfere with the right of journalists to do their job and to perform the function which in a democratic society we wish them to perform. I accept that we have honourable and ethically minded journalists. I am reminded that when James Cameron, a journalist of shining integrity, was very young he had just secured his first job on a major daily, the Daily Mail. It was soon after the war. That newspaper ran a continuing story against a Labour Government Minister, John Strachey. Cameron knew that what the newspaper was saying was not true. He had no other job to go to and he had a young family to support. After some heart searching, he resigned his job on the Daily Mail and wrote a letter to The Times to explain why he had done so. That had the effect of scuppering that campaign of personal harassment and defamation.
One of the most important things Cameron said in his autobiography--this really made an impression on me--was that his attitude would have been the same had the newspaper for which he worked targeted Winston Churchill or Eden in the same way; in other words, people for whom he did not have political sympathy. He believed that that kind of journalism was wrong. I believe that it is wrong too, and it was because I believe it is wrong that I introduced this Motion today. I thank all those who contributed to what has been a very good debate. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
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